Dream Theater took their time to announce their new drummer. But it was good.

As you may or may not know, US prog rock/metal band Dream Theater recently announced that their drummer of 25 years, Mike Portnoy, had left the band. If you’ve never heard of Dream Theater, they have a huge fan base that fills venues with very little advertising needed, and have sold more than 10m records.1

The social media impact of the announcement of Portnoy leaving Dream Theater IS worth noting. Three posts on his Facebook wall from that September day gathered 4,300, 3,000, and 2,500 comments (comments, not likes) in the first 24 hrs. On Dream Theater’s wall three similar posts gathered more than 1,000 comments each. A video interview for online publication The Crooked step dubbed as “Last interview with Mike Portnoy before he left Dream Theater got 48,000 views in the first 36 hours. I guess it is safe to say that the fan base was awakened to a degree every marketer is dreaming of.

Just let me catch my breath…
I’ve heard the promises
I’ve seen the mistakes
I’ve had my fair share of tough breaks
I need a new voice, a new law, a new way
Take the time, reevaluate
It’s time to pick up the pieces,
Go back to square one
I think it’s time for a change2

Auditions for a new drummer to replace Portnoy were held in October 2010, but information was very scarce. Fans new that a new drummer had been found and thanks to a tweet by Dream Theater guitarist John Petrucci they knew that the band was in the studio, recording the follow up album to Black Clouds & Silver Lining, which was IMHO one of if not the best release since 1999 Scenes from a Memory.3

The band updated fans that the newly written material was great and that they couldn’t wait to share it, but even at that point, the new drummer hadn’t been revealed yet.

There is something that I feel
To be something that is real
I feel the heat within my mind
And craft new changes with my eyes
Giving freely wandering promises
A place with decisions I’ll fashion
I won’t waste another breath

Late April Roadrunner Records released a trailer for “The Spirit Carries On 2011″ documentary which was to shed light on the auditions and reveal the new drummer. Again, highly passionate fans spoke their minds, at first with very mixed reactions from “great stuff” to “why this American Idol format, tell us who it is already”.

The unbroken spirit
Obscured and disquiet
Finds clearness this trial demands
And at the end of this day sighs an anxious relief
For the fortune lies still in his hands
If there’s a pensive fear, a wasted year
A man must learn to cope
If his obsession’s real,
Suppression that he feels must turn to hope

In the end I would definitely label the band’s gamble (quote director) as huge success. Now, a week later, each of the three parts has 450,000-640,00 views, even the separate uploads for German fans gathered close to 10,000 views per episode (apparently, the band wasn’t able to release a video with their own music on YouTube without YouTube’s Warner Brothers algorithm going off , go figure). Fans’ feedback to the documentary is mainly positive, on Facebook as well as on John Petrucci’s forum and – on former drummer Mike Portnoy’s forum. Even his fans are fine with the band’s choice and seemingly support “the new guy”, Mike Mangini.

Life is no more assuring than love
(It’s time to take the time)
There are no answers from voices above
(It’s time to take the time)
You’re fighting the weight of the world
And no one can save you this time
Close your eyes
You can find all that you need in your mind

Mike Portnoy himself, although he was heartbroken about the choice he had to make, seems to have a very creative and fulfilled year so far and has already completed work on three projects/albums. In addition, although most likely somewhat legally bound, he has been a good sport about the process. Not a negative word in public but then I am sure he was on the phone with John Petrucci and had something to say about the choices.

I close my eyes
And feel the water rise around me
Drown the beat of time
Let my senses fall away
I can see much clearer now, I’m blind

In closing, some words on the music part of the auditions. Personally, I would have narrowed it down to the same three drummers in the first round, Mike Mangini, Marco Minnemann and Peter Wildoer, and also come to the same conclusion. It may have had to do with the story arch and editing, but Mangini just exuded tremendous amounts of confidence when playing Dream Theater’s songs. He played them perfectly, didn’t interpret too much but still made them his own with ease. An incredible amount of preparation involved and channeled through an itch to play drums, to not disappoint, to make the band feel at home.4 Have a look at 13:10 of the clip and see for yourself how confident he is, but in a good way.


Dream Theater — The Spirit Carries On Episode 1 – MyVideo

Find all you need in your mind
If you take the time
Find all you need in your mind
If you take the time

Final words: Using social media successfully to get your message across, to engage with fans (be it of a band or a brand), to (at the end of the day) sell your product, requires time. It takes longer than a 6-months-ad-flight. It takes more than 12 months of heavy tweeting. Dream Theater (and Mike Portnoy inparticular) has worked very hard for 25 years to build that relationship, and used social media tools from a very early stage. Only because of that, they realize these kinds of engagement levels.

 

  1. Portnoy leaving opened a whole lot of commentary, fans taking sides obviously, and vehemently, I also assume that only 20% of what really happened was in the press which I think is a good thing. Just to hint that matters are more complicated than the one sentence states. Things will have been said to each other and God knows that everything that has been said by the band in the documentary has two sides. But this article is neither about that nor about the fact that Dream Theater is probably the band most people would have name if asked what my fav band is. []
  2. all quotes are lyrics from Dream Theater’s ‘Take the Time’ of the 1992 album Images & Words []
  3. As I said, I am a huge fan. I fell in love ca. 93 and saw Dream Theater live for the first time in 1995. I am one of those geeks who went to several concerts of a tour (Scenes from a Memory tour), but then got turned off by a slight change in the musical style on following albums and high prices for tickets and merchandising. During my early years I collected bootlegs like crazy, had at one point close to 60 discs in addition to every studio release and side project available for sale. Don’t forget, almost all of this was pre-napster. Highlight of my fanboy-dom was when thanks to my job at a local roadie and event security provider I got to hang around soundcheck all day, collecting autographs and translating a newspaper article to James, as well as a meet&greet organized by the German fan club which I am of course a long-time member of. This not only sounds incredibly geeky, it only gets better if you consider that from the time I fell in love until 2001 or so the main communications medium among fans was the Ytsejam mailing list with it’s very own culture. []
  4. Apparently, Mike Mangini holds several world records for fastest play with hands and feet on one or the other drum. I didn’t know this until after I watched the clips. I know him from his work on Extreme’s “Waiting for the punchline”, an album which drum-wise grooves a lot and isn’t that technical, and with Steve Vai, obviously a musician’s dream. []